The Harley Lyrics, the Middle English Lyrics of Ms. Harley 2253

The Harley Lyrics, the Middle English Lyrics of Ms. Harley 2253

The Harley Lyrics, the Middle English Lyrics of Ms. Harley 2253

The Harley Lyrics, the Middle English Lyrics of Ms. Harley 2253

Excerpt

The excellence of the Middle English lyrics of MS. Harley 2253 has long been recognized. W. P. Ker, for example, gave them a prominent place in his English Literature: Mediæval, and said that the manuscript contained 'everything best worth remembering in the old lyrical poetry'. Unfortunately the lyrics have not been very easily accessible. The most recent complete edition is that of Böddeker, which was published seventy years ago. It has a full linguistic introduction and glossary, but the edition suffers from the editor's fondness for unnecessary emendations. Many of the lyrics have been printed by Carleton Brown in his Religious Lyrics of the Fourteenth Century and English Lyrics of the Thirteenth Century, but his labours, valuable though they were, have not rendered a new edition unnecessary. Carleton Brown's chief contribution to the study of the Middle English lyric was the collection of material from a wide variety of sources. He was content to leave many difficulties in the lyrics unexplained, and some of the interpretations which he suggested seem unconvincing.

It has to be admitted that the text of the lyrics contains many difficulties, and I cannot claim to have solved all of them. Fortunately the textual difficulties are for the most part confined to a few of the lyrics. The reader who is not already familiar with the Harley Lyrics is recommended to omit Nos. 2, 3, 6, 8, and 30 on a first reading of the present edition.

I owe a very great debt to the late Professor E. V. Gordon and to Professor Bruce Dickins for encouragement and help ungrudgingly given. My thanks are due too to the Trustees of the British Museum for allowing me to make use of the manuscript, and to Professor J. W. H. Atkins, Professor F. W. Baxter, Professor H. B. Charlton, the Rev. C. W. Dugmore, Mrs. I. L. Gordon, Professor Simeon Potter, Professor T. B. W. Reid, Dr. A. H. Smith, and Dr. F. Whitehead for help and advice on many points. Finally, I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Manchester University Press for undertaking the publication of the book, to its officials for their co-operation, and to the administrators of the Ward Bequest for bearing part of the cost.

G. L. BROOK

February, 1948.

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